Do you like having your photo taken? For those of us who are a little bit self conscious or maybe even a little bit vain (surely the vast majority of us), the constant presence of the camera phone and the ease of sharing photos via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and the rest can make us a little edgy, detag-happy.
I experienced my own #slanegirl moment earlier this year. (Well, nearly). A flyer for one of my favourite music festivals dropped through my letterbox one Saturday morning. ‘Oh, who’s playing Crustystock this year?’ I pondered to myself, like a woman in a bad film. The front of the flyer showed a crowd scene, centered on a candid shot of woman sitting on the ground with mad festival hair and a big grin.
‘Oh she looks like she’s enjoying herself,’ says Casually Breakfasting Me, sipping coffee and eating toast in clichéd Saturday morning style.
‘Hmmm she looks a little bit like OH CRAP THAT’S ME.’
And so it was. A picture of me sitting cross-legged and grinning with Sparkly Daughter on my lap. This photo and various versions of it has appeared on leaflets, flyers, in colour, in black and white, in some sort of fancy filtered/colourised version, close up, long short, portrait, landscape, panaroma, on a promo video, and for about six solid weeks in my Facebook advert feed – which is testament to the power of directed advertising really – fancy going to Crustystock? Look how much fun you had last year!
I can see why they chose it for the promotion to be fair – it’s a lovely photo – you know, if it wasn’t actually of me.
As a shot for the festival, it shows a very ordinary looking woman, relaxed, happy and really enjoying the thing she is watching.
As a photo of ME, it makes me cringe more than a little. I had been at a festival, sleeping in a tent, for four days and frankly it shows. My hair is indescribably bonkers. I look a bit sweaty and crumpled. I am wearing what is effectively my vest, because it had become unexpectedly hot during the day and I had taken off whatever I was wearing on top.
And I am smiling so much in one of them shots that my chins are cascading down my neck like a fleshy waterfall.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting your sympathy about this. Clearly, it would be a bit pointless to complain given that I was sitting in a public place and also – crucially – this is what I ACTUALLY LOOK LIKE.
But it got me thinking about the way in which the internet in general and social media in particular has made us all, in varying ways, much more visual subjects and observers than we used to be.
In the olde days, having your photo taken was a different experience. There was a fair bit of faffing, usually about angles and light, even for a snapshot, because film was expensive. And getting your photos developed involved a trip to Boots and shelling out a good amount of cash and holding the prints at the edges CAREFULLY.
Nowadays, the photos we take are faster, much more numerous and much more candid; far more disposable (click, delete, click, delete) but paradoxically much much more permanent.
These days it’s much harder to destroy the negatives; it probably involves going to a server somewhere in Latvia and taking a sledgehammer to it, which sounds like fun weekend but isn’t very practical. The pictures of me looking frizzy and festival-happy, sitting on the grass in a field in Oxfordshire, has been seen by millions of people and will be preserved in thousands of locations, pretty much indefinitely or least until the monkeys take over the world and the internet gets switched off.
I didn’t used to think I was a visual person – I can’t draw, and I am useless with things like colours. And I used to be a professional camera dodger.
But the ubiquity of the camera phone has made it impossible to avoid the candid shot, and also allowed me, and many of my friends, to start experiencing, and documenting my life in more visual, creative and satisfying ways.
This year I have become ridiculously addicted to Instagram and Snapchat. Instagram make us THINK we are all David Bailey, just like Twitter makes us all rookie Jimmy Olsens. It is nothing short of the democratisation of the way in which we all see the world. We can be the star of our own personal movie, all day every day – and moreover, we can see if the rest of the world wants to watch. (Mostly – not really; the rest of the world is, as always, too busy starring in their own movies to be a captive audience for yours.)
I know it’s artificial. But that’s fine – many of my favourite things are. And I do know the downsides – how can I not? I talked earlier this week about how availability of easy photo has changed the consequences of youthful discretions from mild short-lived embarrassment to potentially world-wide opprobrium.
And believe me I do know that the endless stream of attention-seeking selfies and close-ups of pudding can be tiresome but – well, we can filter those out. They are much easier to avoid that having to sit glassy-eyed and expressionless through your friend’s three 36 exposure albums every September when they came back from holiday.
Visual sharing helps us make more connections, with more people. I love getting to see the world through other peoples’ eyes – both the things what they want us to see, and what we see by accident. It’s fun, it’s interesting and it’s enriching.
So my one shot as a model was not in a studio with flattering lighting and some careful camera angles. Who cares? In the photo I am smiling, I am clearly enjoying myself, having fun. It’s a great memory, a precious moment in time, and I hope it maybe sold a couple of tickets for the magical experience of Crustystock and I am glad, really glad, that it is preserved for ever.
This is what I was watching – Dan Eccles and Jake Jones – the world’s funniest flat footers: